Monday, May 26, 2008

White Culture and the Democratic Party

Why Krugman is Wrong - Andrew Sullivan

This interesting post by Sullivan argues against two items in Paul Krugman's latest op-ed on Sen. Clinton and some comparisons she has made throughout her campaign. The two items Sullivan has problems with are Sen. Clinton's comparison of this campaign to that of Robert Kennedy in 1968 and the comparison of her own self as an LBJ to Sen. Obama's MLK. Krugman argues that such comparisons and the resulting charges of tone-deafness on the part of the Clinton campaign are nothing more than manufactured scandals. Sullivan believes Krugman's full of shit, which I agree with, even if I don't think the word scandal is appropriate (stupid and ignorant yes, scandal no).
What makes Sullivan's rebuttal interesting though, is his contention that Sen. Clinton, particularly with the LBJ comparison, is arguing that black and gay Democrats should rally behind her because she is taking the standard line of "you vote for us, we'll take care of you. And "we" is always white and straight and connected." That contention on Sen. Clinton's part is exactly why she is losing large and traditionally loyal parts of the Democratic party to Sen. Obama. It's also why Sen. Obama's supposed gaffe over the bitterness of poor and struggling working class families hits the mark. Sen. Obama understands better than Sen. Clinton that what many Democrats and independents are looking for is not someone who will "take care" of them but someone who will provide the opportunities and incentives to take care of themselves. It's a strange position for a progressive politician such as Sen. Obama to take since it implies a more hands off approach to progressive politics. Yet it makes sense in the type of message Sen. Obama is campaigning on--a message that government can help you but you will have to make some efforts on your part as well. It's the type of message that runs counter to the traditional charge that liberals wish to create a nanny state while maintaining the values that make Sen. Obama liberal.
But more than a shift in approach to pushing liberal values, Sen. Obama's platform of post-partisan change drastically pivots away from the attitude of older Democrats like Sen. Clinton by saying that minority Democrats will no longer have to rely on the white, straight and connected members of the party. Could one consider that a subtle playing of the race card? Perhaps, but I think more than playing the race card, Sen. Obama's message is saying that the race card doesn't matter any more. It's a brilliant positioning of himself against Sen. Clinton. Where any comment that might imply Sen. Obama is using his race against Sen. Clinton comes off as an attack on Sen. Obama's race by Sen. Clinton, the position Sen. Obama has struck makes it difficult for anyone in the Clinton campaign to use the race card in the necessary subtle manner. The typical dog-whistle attacks become obvious almost immediately. And while I still don't think of such attacks as scandals, I do think that they show a grave misunderstanding of the movement Sen. Obama has inspired.
It's that misunderstanding of the approach Sen. Obama has taken that has so harmed the Clinton campaign. The allusion to Robert Kennedy's assassination is only the latest in a long line of comments that fail to undermine Sen. Obama's campaign while making either the Clinton campaign or Sen. Clinton herself look out of place and of a previous generation of politics. Even though Sen. Obama has claimed a massive majority of the black vote it wasn't due to anything Sen. Obama or his campaign did but a response to the ingrained white superiority attitude of the Clinton campaign. Although, I must mention that I don't think Sen. Clinton is bigoted against blacks, but much like the gays of the 1990s, the Clintons and their campaign simply expected the black voters to fall in line. It's an attitude about whiteness that the baby boomer generations have trouble understanding. It's also an attitude that post-boomers lack, or at the very least are far more aware of than the boomers are.